Hands on: Apple MacBook (13-inch, white)

Apple's "last" MacBook is the same from the outside, but the insides are nearly as good as a MacBook Pro. Can you live without a longer battery and an SD card slot for $200 less?

The last MacBook standing. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's lowest-end laptop occupies a special place in the Mac spectrum. As of WWDC 2009, it's the last MacBook standing in the lineup-- all the other Apple notebooks are now MacBook Pros . The MacBook (we can call it "the" MacBook, now) also is the last to retain the polycarbonate white plastic glossy casing that once defined a whole line of machines.

While the MacBook's more pedestrian appearance may not catch the eye as much as the unibody aluminum MacBook Pros, don't be fooled by its throwback looks--inside, Apple's done a good job of keeping the components on par with its more expensive brothers. In fact, the white MacBook has very comparable specs to the lowest-end 13-inch MacBook Pro. Its 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo processor is close to the MacBook Pro's standard 2.26 GHz one, and the Nvidia 9400M graphics processor is the same one that's in the MacBook unibody 13-inchers, so the gaming and media capabilities are comparable.

Depending on your specific needs, for $999, you're getting a real bargain with the last MacBook. You can either approach this as "for $200 more I can get a MacBook Pro," or "I can get something nearly as good as a MacBook Pro and save $200." The latter perspective, however, requires you to be willing to skip some of the Pro-level features.

The MacBook comes with two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-DVI port, a FireWire 400 port, and both a headphone and mic jack. The 160GB hard drive can be upgraded to a maximum of 500GB when ordering, a first for a MacBook. The polycarbonate body, as always, feels sturdy and well built, if thicker than the aluminum versions, and the pleasingly minimalist glossy plastic exterior and matte white interior might be more prone to picking up scratches and staining.

What you're missing by not upgrading to the $1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro is a better color-depth LED-backlit screen, a thinner, lighter body, FireWire 800, DDR3 RAM (the MacBook only has DDR2), a longer-life seven-hour (according to Apple) non-removable battery, the oversize multitouch touch pad (this smaller one does support some multitouch gestures), and an SD card slot.

If you can live without these, then the $999 MacBook just might be your bet. Even better, Apple's current back-to-school promotion throws in a free 8GB iPod Touch (minus sales tax) if you're a student, sweetening the deal a bit more, although the promotion runs across all Macs.

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

 

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